Known for playing with a band named "Kings of rhythm", you can certainly say that Ike was "The King" among of all kings.
Born in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Ike had a hard childhood. He witnessed his father, a Baptist minister, being beaten up to death by a group of white supremacists. His mother later remarried but her new husband turned out to be an abusive alcoholic, who violently beat her and the youngster. After fending for himself one day, Ike ran from home and moved to Memphis, where he learned to play the guitar and piano. During his high school years, he formed the band Kings of Rhythm retaining the band’s name long after graduation.
After renaming the band Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats for a session at the Memphis Sun Studios in 1951, he wrote Rocket 88, a piece often considered to be the first rock ’n’ roll song in history. He then joined efforts with Annie Mae Bullock, A.K.A. Tina Turner, and together they revolutionized the rock, R&B and soul scene of the sixties.
As we can witness from historical photos of the Kings of Rhythm showcasing a spanking new early sunburst model, Ike was on of the first bluesmen to play the Stratocaster. He kept playing them throughout his career and, despite owning a number of Strats, he's generally associated to one particular model: his trademark Sonic Blue Strat.
Ike’s guitar sound reflected his personality: a sharp and penetrating tone, complemented by an impeccable sense of rhythm that fueled his band's performances. A natural born perfectionist, he was very demanding of his Kings of Rhythm, always striving for top-notch musicianship and thrilling showmanship.
Curiously, Ike always considered himself more of a piano player, as confirmed in his interview with Rubin in 2006:
"B. B. King says i’m not a guitar player, and he’s right. I just do tricks. I started playing because I couldn’t get my guitar players to do what I wanted. Also, I can lead the band better when I’m not confined to the piano. I don’t want to holler across the stage if somebody is out of tune... I always had trouble with drummers, so I mostly played rhythm the way a drummer plays a high hat. That way I could hold the tempo down or pick it up".
This has been also confirmed by Seth Blumberg, lead guitarist in the Kings of Rhythm:
"His life is the rhythm, that’s why his band is called the Kings of Rhythm. He plays with his left-hand thumb hooked over the neck laying down the rhythm, and he rarely plays upstrokes. A lot of the time, he doesn’t even play chords; he’s just shucking the rhythm on the muted strings. He has a great knack for what he calls ‘marrying the rhythm,’ where he’ll decide how to accent the beat while the drummer is really driving. . . . Ike’s all about energy, and he says, ‘I don’t wanna hear that mama-papa two and four. It makes me tired. You got to lay it down, man. Don’t step around it - you got to step in it".
Next player: Jimmie Vaughan